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The Ministry (6)Humbleness in Ministry

Pope Shenouda III | 24 January 2010

A minister is supposed to have certain spiritual attributes, foremost of which is humbleness, an important attribute as the Lord Christ affirmed, saying to His disciples, "Learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart." (Mt 11: 29)
The lord could have concentrated on many virtues that characterize His Holy Person, but He focused on humbleness and meekness.  It is because a person who ministers is often fought with pride, seeing himself has turned from being served to a minister, an important person in the church whose opinion is sought for nominating or ordaining a new priest, and perhaps he himself is nominated for priesthood! So, we would like to give some remarks in this respect:.
1. A minister should not forget that he is a servant:  It is a good title: a servant, not a master or preacher or teacher! His duty is to serve, not to rule or boast, for pride is not an attribute of a minister. The Lord Christ gave Himself this title although He is "King of kings and Lord of lords" (rev 19: 16), and He bowed and washed the feet of His disciples to give them an example (Jn 13: 5, 15). He further said, "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many." (Mt 20: 28)
The angels likewise are called ministers in the Holy Scripture: "Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation." (Heb 1: 14) "… who makes His angels spirits, His ministers a flame of fire." (Ps 104: 4)
The apostles also are called ministers, for St. Paul said about himself and Apollos: "Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed?" (1 Cor 3: 5) And concerning his assistant Tychicus he said, "Tychicus, a beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord, will make all things known to you." (Eph 6: 21) Also about Epaphras he said, "Epaphras … who is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf." (Col 1: 7) Even concerning St. Mark the Apostle, St. Paul said, "he is useful to me for ministry." (2 Tim 4: 11)
On their ministry in general, St. Paul said, "Our sufficiency is from God, who made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant." God "has given us the ministry of reconciliation … we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God." (2 Cor 3: 5, 6; 18- 20)   When selecting the seven deacons, the father apostles said, "We will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word." (Acts 6: 4) The apostles were ministers of the word and of reconciliation, and the father priests in general are ministers of the altar, and the word "deacon" means minister. Moreover the priest who serves the sacrifice is called "the ministering priest". Even the widow who served in the church was required to fulfill certain conditions: "… well reported for good works … if she has lodged strangers, if she has washed the saints' feet." (1 Tim 5: 10) Furthermore, care for the poor is called "Social Service", and the meeting of the Sunday Schools teachers is called "Ministers Meeting". So, brother, if you are a minister you ought to be humble and let not your heart be lifted up within. Keep in mind the true meaning of the title, so that it may not lose its significance. St. Augustine, praying for his flock, said, 'I ask You, O Lord, for my masters, Your servants …'!
Also if you are a minister, you ought to be obedient to God and to your seniors in the ministry.
Some ministers do not respect the priest or obey him, and sometimes defy him, while claiming to be ministers!!! The same applies to a priest who does not obey his bishop!! And to the members of the church board who take action without consulting their church leadership!!
Do not think yourself a leader of pastoral work or of teaching in the church.  Remember always that you are a minister and walk as proper for a minister, and be aware not to lose your humbleness, for as the Scripture says, "Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall." (Prov 16: 18)
2. Discipleship is a way leading to humbleness: Some ministers wrongly think that once they became ministers they are no more disciples! But to keep your humbleness, continue to be a disciple. All Christians in the apostolic era were called disciples, and when the Lord Christ sent the eleven to preach, He said to them, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations." (Mt 28: 19) And as preaching extended, "The word of God spread and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly." (Acts 6: 7) Continue then to be a disciple to the Lord and to the church, and let not your heart be exalted. If you felt that you have become a master above discipleship, know then that you began to fall in pride. 
I remember when we were ministers in Sunday Schools in St. Anthony Church, 45 years ago, every minister used to sit as a listener or a disciple in four meetings a week to learn humbly from the others. You also, say always to yourself that you are still learning and in need to know more, for a life of discipleship removes away arguments and discussions, and helps you to accept other views with a good spirit. On the contrary, the spirit of argument may lead to stubbornness and thinking oneself understands more than one's seniors or even is a senior.
Keep then your spiritual childhood, for the Lord says, "Unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven." (Mt 18: 3) Many saints actually led a life of discipleship:Joshua, for instance, continued as a disciple to Moses the Prophet all his life until the departure of Moses. And Elisha continued as a disciple to Elijah the Prophet until the latter ascended unto heaven, and Elisha bid him farewell, saying: "My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and its horsemen!" (2 Kgs 2: 12) St. Athanasius, although Pope of Alexandria, kept his discipleship to St. Anthony the Great, and said in the Saint's biography he wrote, 'I poured water on his hands', meaning that he served him.
Moreover, the disciples in the past used to sit at he feet of their masters, not beside or in front of them. The master sat on a chair and the disciples on the floor at his feet, as St. Paul the Apostle says, "I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel." (Acts 22: 3) The master was not only a teacher to his disciples, but he disciplined them. Is it then reasonable for a minister who reads a book or to become proud, or to exalt himself over his father priests and impose his opinion on his father confessor, otherwise not obey him?! Such a minister has become wise in his own eyes though the Scripture warns us, saying, "Do not be wise in your own eyes," "lean not on your own understanding." (Prov 3: 7, 5)
Be always a humble disciple and seek knowledge from its sources.Be a disciple to your father confessor, to the church fathers, to the spiritual meetings, to the nature: the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, and to reliable books. And though you grow never think yourself above the level of learning.
The church history preserves for us wonderful stories of humbleness of saints revealed in discipleship. Imagine how a great saint like Moses the Prophet sought a word of benefit from a boy called Zakariah, and when the boy felt confused and said, 'You are the pillar of the desert, and you ask me a word?' the saint said, 'Believe me my son, I knew from the Spirit in you that you have a word I need to know.
St. Macarius the Great likewise sought a word of benefit from a herdsman! The holy Fathers used to seek words of benefit although they were leading an angelic life which many desire to learn humbleness from it. Believe me, the most troublesome for the church these days is the lack of humbleness in the field of teaching. Any minister having a new idea, meditation, or commentary tries to make of it a doctrine and teach it to the others. Some authors, for instance, like to replace a prevailing concept with a new one, as if they have discovered something neither the church nor anyone knows!
The problem lies in introducing personal concepts far from the teaching and doctrines of the church.   They try to argue and convince people that the prevailing concepts are wrong, and for this purpose some may criticize the church rituals and others modify the wording of the Holy Liturgy, or introduce unfamiliar translations for the Holy Scripture. Some others permit marriage cases against the church laws, and others use unfamiliar Liturgies in prayer. Each of those considers himself a source of teaching forming an independent front or a separate island in an ocean. And when the church interferes to correct such people they move heaven and earth and surround themselves with disciples to support them against the church, declaring that their teaching is the sound teaching and everybody else is wrong!
We may even find each Church Education branch adopting a special curriculum! The senior minister of the branch may modify the general curriculum or adopt a special one seeing it is better or more suitable! Therefore we shall give a unified curriculum –God willing- after consulting the father priests and ministry leaders. We hope then that the ministers be humble and use it, without raising objections or rejection under the pretext of democracy in church!
The early church was distinguished for the one mind, because it was a humble church submitting to the views of its leaders. The Protestant Church on the other hand, advocating freedom of teaching and interpretation, has dispersed into over a hundred sects with different doctrines!  A traditional church keeps the sound faith and does not permit individual concepts that my turn into dogmas, but advises its members to be humble. A humble minister does not boast of his knowledge, but provides teaching in a calm spiritual way, without complication or holding comparisons between a text and its translation in Greek, Hebrew or English. People may not be aware of such complications, and there may be no need for it as evidence. Sometimes even the references they use may be incorrect or adopting rationalism rather than spiritual method.
A humble minister descends to the level of those whom he serves instead of attempting to dazzle them with material above their level and which may not benefit them. The self should have no place in his mind but only the spiritual benefit of the people.
A humble minister is concerned with preparing his lessons.He does not rely on his previous knowledge or on his memory as some senior ministers do and their words come out weak, having trusted their own selves and capabilities over what they ought. A humble minister respects the mind of the listeners however little they may be and exerts every effort to provide them with rich words that fills them.
Humbleness and the ego:  A humble minister denies himself. He hides so that the Lord may appear, as John Baptist said, "He must increase, but I must decrease." (Jn 3: 30) A minister who is not humble, on the contrary, builds himself in a wrong way. His concern is to rise not to raise the ministry, and may seek positions or fight with the church leaders, and gets used to giving orders and criticizing.
Such a minister may even boast of his ministry or of its length and standard.  He may boast of being in the ministry for twenty years and generations have graduated through him. He wants to be obeyed not to obey, and rejects the systems and keeps telling about his past in haughtiness.
A humble minister is like a calm breeze. No one feels his coming in or out. He is gentle and meek in his dealings, never hurts anyone or cares about positions. He obeys, and is like his master, "He will not quarrel nor cry out, nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets." (Mt 12: 19) nor "think of himself more highly than he ought to think." (Rom 12: 3)
Beware lest ministry makes you lose your humbleness.Many had been humble before joining the ministry and changed afterwards. Do not be like them, because, "What is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?" (Mt 16: 26)

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